Update #8 on Vanuatu and on our deployment there

Status of our deployment

Our deployment has been extended until 2300 UTC Sunday.

Our MicroMapping work has ended but volunteers are still mapping data where this will be useful to responders. Like this map of hotels and their status (open/damaged/closed etc) across the country http://arcg.is/1Fk0fw

All our efforts are now focused on building the best information resource we can to assist responding agencies. We can really help speed things up and reduce duplication and waste by pulling all the key information together into a single place. There are 880 line items in our resource right now but we know there is more information out there.

It’s a hard grind now because we already have so much data collated but this is where we potentially add the most value. By hunting out the details that responders will find hardest to locate, we have the chance to save humanitarian agencies the most time.

We tried to give a flavour of how our resources are being used in yesterday’s update which is available on the Ning http://lawrd.co/19GAucv and on the Blog http://lawrd.co/1CFIqHB in case you missed it.

One last push to the line

So many of you have already worked so hard. The finish line is in sight now. We’re asking for one final push to provide the best resource we can to help the international community help the people of Vanuatu.

We still need volunteers and coordinators right up to 2300 UTC Sunday.

There is still work for new volunteers. In fact new volunteers might help bring new perspectives to the task.

If you haven’t signed up yet, there is still time to do so.


Feel free to contact any of us direct if you have any questions before signing up.

  • The situation at 1400 UTC 21 March 2015
  • The Government of Vanuatu has prioritised Shelter, Water, Health and Food assistance for the initial emergency response. Transport of relief items to provinces is now underway.
  • The Vanuatu Mobile Force is helping to deliver water on Efate. Clean drinking water remains a critical need.
  • A food assistance program will target 33,365 households (162,000 people) in affected regions.
  • 3,995 people are currently housed in 39 evacuation centres in and around Port Vila.
  • 16 people are now confirmed dead.



This is from a statement issued yesterday by the (UN) Humanitarian Coordinator for Vanuatu, Osnat Lubrani

I have been briefed by a UN assessment team that returned today from the islands of Ngona, Pele and Emau, three of the most remote northern islands. Water is a serious problem, with the contamination of water sources a grave health threat, particularly to children. Food stocks are limited as vegetable gardens have been wiped out – a concern for food security and as a source of livelihoods. Several of the health centres and schools have been severely damaged.


Despite the devastation, it is clear that preparedness measures taken by the Government, including the use of traditional building materials, community sensitization and well-drilled early warning systems helped reduce the impact of this disaster.


Keep in touch

If you’ve got any questions, comments, or suggestions then drop me or anyone in the core team an email or ask in the SBTF general chat room on Skype.

ben@standbytaskforce.com or coreteam@standbytaskforce.com

Know hope SBTF.

Update #2 on Vanuatu for SBTF members and call for volunteers

This is an update on the situation as we understand it with regards to Vanuatu, an assessment of the likelihood of an activation, and a call for volunteers to help with planning and preparation.

The situation at 1900 UTC 15 March 2015

Vanuatu (population 264,700) was hit by a Cat 5 storm (Pam) on 13 March 2015.

Peter Walton, head of international programs for the Red Cross in Vanuatu reports that the humanitarian needs are enormous. Shelter, food and water are urgent priorities right now. (Humanity Road has a detailed sitrep http://humanityroad.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/20150315_Humanity_Road_Sitrep2-Vanuatu.pdf)

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team has initiated two mapping tasks for the area tracked by Pam http://tasks.hotosm.org/project/943 and http://tasks.hotosm.org/project/944

There is concern for the southern-most islands of Tafea Province (total population 32,540), which was directly struck by the eye wall and is without communication. The northern islands of Sanma, Penama and Torba Provinces (population 86,000) are also expected to have been heavily impacted as the cyclone headed south-southwest towards the capital. Communication was cut for many hours but some phone lines and internet access are becoming available. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/OCHA_VUT_TCPam_Sitrep1_20150310.pdf

Call for Standby Task Force volunteers

The Standby Task Force has not yet been activated.

We do, however, need some support from the network. Please help if you can.

There are advance tasks that Jus has been working on. We really need some volunteers to help with these.

They include

  • Collecting all photos, uploading to map for visual reference of situation
  • Monitoring and cleaning data from AIDR, pulling information from the csv from AIDR to respond to specific questions from organisations
  • Search the Internet for incidents, e.g. reports, maps, contact lists that will help us (and partners) keep up to date with the evolving situation
  • We also need volunteers to improve the accuracy of our photomap now that the basemap has been updated

I’ve you are able to volunteer with any of these tasks starting immediately and over the next 24-48 hours, please add your details to this Google Doc http://goo.gl/GjVwym

Any questions, contact Jus or Stuart from the core team.

Jus is     jus@standbytaskforce.com skype: fidget01

Stuart is stuart@standbytaskforce.com skype: stuart.costello5

Or just ask in the general skype chat room.

Likelihood of activation

We now think it is very likely that we will receive an activation request over the next 24 hrs. This is likely to be a very significant activation and we will need as many volunteers as possible. If there is anything you can do to free up time over the coming week, we’d really appreciate it.

We have a published set of activation criteria. http://blog.standbytaskforce.com/about-2/activation-criteria/

Please continue to keep an eye on your emails, the Ning, Facebook and the main Skype chat and be ready to volunteer.

We’ll keep you informed as the situation develops.

Keep in touch

If you’ve got any questions, comments, suggestions then drop me or anyone in the core team an email or ask in the SBTF general chat room on Skype.
ben@standbytaskforce.com or coreteam@standbytaskforce.com

Thanks, and I know we all keep the people of Vanuatu in our thoughts and hearts

SBTF Needs You: Rewriting our FAQs, Your Input Needed

It is a great feeling when you are down to those final pieces of a puzzle.  A triumphant buzz runs through you when you understand how something works.  Those moments when the light-bulb shines bright are some of the most satisfying.  We need your help to keep those lights burning.

We have been working hard behind the scenes to bring you the best that being a digital volunteer has to offer. New tools, new training opportunities, updated web content, and refined teams.  As a part of this, we are rewriting our Frequently Asked Questions.

The field we work in is a dynamic and changing space; for which there is no clearly defined step by step guide on how we get to the future.

We turn to you, our great team of friends and volunteers.

We invite you to please help by telling us which questions would help you, and others, most as volunteers. Lingering questions that you had but did not ask during your last deployment?  Have you been a member, but not volunteered yet? Want to learn more about a specific team or the tools we use?  Ask, ask, ask away.

Our previous Frequently Asked Questions document contains outdated questions, teams, and tools.  We will leave it live while we rewrite the new FAQ section.  The link below is to the GoogleDocument spreadsheet where you can anonymously ask the deep dark questions that you have always wondered, but never dared ask.

On the spreadsheet, we have broken down a few example questions into  suggested categories, including an ‘Other’ section.  Feel free to add more categories and as many questions as you feel relevant. We will leave the document open for a little over a week so that you have time to dig deep and remember any searing questions that you may have had when joining through now.

We are excited to collaborate with you to update this key resource.  Thank you and Happy Helping!




World Disasters Report 2013: Technology and the Future of Humanitarian Action

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The World Disasters Report 2013, just released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, examines the profound impact of technological innovations on humanitarian action, how humanitarians employ technology in new and creative ways, and what risks and opportunities may emerge as a result of technological innovations. We’re proud to say that the Standby Task Force (SBTF) is referenced in several areas of this prominent report.

“The responsible use of technology offers concrete ways to make humanitarian assistance more effective, efficient and accountable and can, in turn, directly reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience. Finding ways for advances in technology to serve the most vulnerable is a moral imperative; a responsibility, not a choice.

World Disasters Report offers detailed discussion of many challenges in humanitarian technology which, left unaddressed, could temper the enthusiasm for such new technologies. Greater information sharing and more data collection bring risks of information misuse and compromised data security and privacy. Concerns over data protection and the security of information sources are legitimate, but the actual risk may vary and need to be carefully analysed in relation to benefits.”

To read more, access the full report here: http://worlddisastersreport.org/

How AI, Twitter and Digital Volunteers are Transforming Humanitarian Disaster Response

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Great article by Katie Collins on Wired.co.uk on how the Standby Task Force, QCRI, UN OCHA, the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) and others worked together to use the new tool MicroMappers in response to the earthquake that took place in Pakistan on September 24th, 2013. A big thank you to our 100 volunteers that took part in the response!

“On 24 September a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck south-west Pakistan, killing at least 300 people. The following day Patrick Meier at the Qatar Computer Research Institute (QCRI) received a call from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) asking him to help deal with the digital fallout — the thousands of tweets, photos and videos that were being posted on the web containing potentially valuable information about the disaster.

To help make sense of the outpouring of data, Meier mobilised two new tools he had created, but had yet to release. The first, MicroMappers is a series of microtasking apps (called Clickers), which can be used to tag the mass of online user-generated multimedia content relating to a disaster to establish its importance. OCHA also reached out to the Digital Humanitairan Network (DHN), which mobilised the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) to work with Meier’s tools. The volunteers set to work and within the first few hours, 35,000 relevant tweets had been collected.

From there the tweets were uploaded to the TweetClicker, and those with images filtered into the ImageClicker to be analysed and tagged depending on the type of information they contained — infrastructure damage and requests for help, for example — so they could be distributed to the appropriate agencies. In all, 14,000 tweets were tweets and 341 images were collected by 100 volunteers in the first 30 hours….”

Continue reading the full article here:

How AI, Twitter and digital volunteers are transforming humanitarian disaster response [Wired.co.uk]

Social Media, Crisis Mapping and the New Frontier in Disaster Response

Pakistan earthquake

A new article on TheGuardian.com Global Development Professionals Network talks about MicroMappers, our new microtasking tool, and how the work by Standby Task Force volunteers during the Philippines Typhoon Pablo deployment contributed to the development of the tool.

“There is such a thing as too much information. During a disaster or crisis, Twitter and other social media can provide an instant view of conditions on the ground. This information can be more specific and timely than official data from aid agencies or relief organisations. But not all of this massive information is useful, and the sheer volume can be overwhelming. For example, there were 20m disaster-related tweets in a single week during Hurricane Sandy.

A recently launched set of innovative microtasking apps may help relief organisations make sense of social media data in these situations. MicroMappers apps help volunteers identify and map useful social media data by breaking down larger, more complicated analytical tasks into small, easily completed microtasks …..”

Continue reading the full article here:

Social Media, Crisis Mapping and the New Frontier in Disaster Response [theguardian.com]

A Master’s Thesis on the Motivations Behind the SBTF

[Guest blog post by Evelyn Hichens, an SBTF volunteer who has just completed her Geography Msci course at the University Of Birmingham, UK. For her fourth year dissertation she decided to focus on quantifying the motivations behind the volunteers of Standby Taskforce. A powerpoint presentation of her MA thesis is available here.]

Hey Mapsters,

As you some of you may know, I’ve been carrying out research into the motivations behind the Standby Task Force for the last six months or so. I have had some great chats and have really enjoyed hearing about your experiences and motivations. I have previously done some research on crisis mapping but it mainly focused on the ‘for’ and ‘against’ of using crowdsourcing in a humanitarian setting. However, I have now realised that it is first important to understand the motivations behind the volunteers involved – without this information the movement could be prevented from moving forward. Not paying enough attention to volunteer motivations has been a criticism of previous Volunteer Geographic Information (VGI) studies.

So firstly for those who don’t know what my research is on, here is a quick overview of the methodology. I used the Volunteer Function Inventory to create a survey and to quantify the motivations of volunteers. In total 42 volunteers answered the survey – many thanks for all you who did! I also interviewed 13 volunteers, and four core members of the SBTF as well as four representatives from organisations that had previously activated the SBTF.

Just quick overview of some of my key findings…

Volunteers tend to join the SBTF as they have an interest in the field of crisis mapping/disaster response and they are curious to see what the SBTF does. The SBTF has widened the field for participation in disaster response. For the majority of volunteers I spoke to, their main motivation was their desire to help but a secondary motivation was also noted, the chance to learn new skills.

The volunteers are passionate about the work the SBTF is doing and this can be shown by one of my favourite quotes from my dissertation:

“[The SBTF] is an organisation of compassionate individuals who use a variety of skills, training and experience to provide humanitarian aid in crisis situations through online interactions. Some are professionals and others learn from scratch, but every person has an important role to play.”

Volunteers tend to exhibit similar understandings of the purpose of the SBTF whilst they do not share a clear understanding or necessarily have an awareness of the SBTF’s long term aims. Yet, somewhat controversially, this does not seem to be an issue. It has previously been mentioned that crowdsourcing initiatives require clear long term objectives and that the greater the motive alignment of the crowd, the more likely it is for volunteers to feel like a partner. Instead the key to the SBTF is ‘keeping the conversation alive’. Volunteers are attracted by the openness of the community; as the end goals are not set in stone, the volunteers have the opportunity to be part of its future. Volunteers are driving the initiative, rather than purely being an anonymous cog in a machine.

The profile analysis showed that 46 percent of the volunteers had not joined any teams. When volunteers join the SBTF they fill in a bio section, in which the question ‘What teams would you like to join?’ is filled in. However, just because volunteers have filled this in it does not mean they are a member of these teams. Volunteers who read this post I urge to to check that you have actually joined a team/s that you had filled in, as without this information the SBTF cannot have a clear understanding of its community’s skill-set.

As altruistic motivations prevail in the SBTF community, it is crucial that the volunteers are aware of what the outcome of their efforts will be and how their labours translate into helping people. During the interviews, two volunteers discussed how they required more information on the impact of the deployments to conclude whether they are actually helping people. The SBTF needs to ensure, where possible, to provide the volunteers with detailed information on the impact of their work. As well, before activating deployments, considering whether volunteer motivations will be met through their engagement. This may mean that volunteers will be less not motivated to volunteers for those deployments that are not in a crisis setting.

The SBTF answered the request of the Disaster 2.0 (2011) report for an effective interface between volunteers and traditional organisations in the field and this has been recognised and appreciated by the traditional organisations that have activated it. So far motivations for activating the SBTF have been experimental in nature, yet engagement has been positive and the SBTF are steadily becoming a valued member of the response community.

This study’s understanding of volunteer motivations should allow the SBTF to work towards enhancing volunteer retention, through both ensuring the volunteers know how they are helping people, and continuing volunteer skill development through training, simulations, and support throughout deployments. It hopes to catalyse further studies focusing on volunteer motivations in the field of crisis mapping; this field is rapidly expanding, and it is important volunteer motivations are understood so that the SBTF are aware of these and consider them in the management of the community.

Many thanks to all the volunteers that took part in the survey and to everyone I interviewed. I would be very interested to hear any of your comments so please feel free to get in contact with me: eve2609@gmail.com.